The Xs and Os of Packers' RB-by-Commitee System: How Does It Work?

Alen Dumonjic@@Dumonjic_AlenContributor IIApril 4, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 12:  Running back DuJuan Harris #26 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates after running the ball in for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Candlestick Park on January 12, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

As the NFL draft nears, there are many questions about whether the Green Bay Packers will select a lead running back at some point in the draft.

Some have suggested that the team could draft a stud ball-carrier like Alabama's Eddie Lacy at the end of the first round, but that seems to contradict general manager Ted Thompson's line of thinking. That is, if Lacy isn't the best player available on the team's draft board.

Others have requested that the Packers select one in the middle or late rounds, such as Wisconsin running back Montee Ball. Ball has a lot of wear and tear on his body but is a solid all-around runner.

Despite the pleas for draft prospects, Packers fans are unlikely to see a ball-carrier selected early in the draft because the team may already have one on the roster. DuJuan Harris, who went undrafted out of Troy in 2011, surprisingly impressed when he had his number called in the playoffs.

That led to a vote of confidence this offseason from head coach Mike McCarthy, who said (via Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) the job was Harris' "responsibility if he wants to be the starter."

Combined with Harris' strong play, a lack of value at the position in the draft and the Packers' running back-by-committee approach, the team may already have the talent on their roster to run the ball effectively and the way they want to. 

It's just a matter of who and how.


Running Back by Committee

The Packers run-game hasn't been particularly good, if we're being honest, but at times it's been good enough.

A variety of ball-carriers have been able to pick up yards and first downs when the team has needed it most, allowing McCarthy to continue to throw the ball with star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. When the team has gone to the running game, however, they've used a running back-by-committee approach.

This is just like it sounds, as they shuffle through multiple players to get the job done. Typically these players are given specific tasks, such as being primary runners on early downs or coming in on third down to be a pass protector.

Those two examples may be the only ones that are needed for this upcoming season, as the Packers are hoping to move to a "one-two punch" instead of multiple runners. The potential combination may be the aforementioned DuJuan Harris and fullback John Kuhn (via Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).


DuJuan Harris

Harris, 24, is the presumed starter going into the upcoming regular season. He gave the Packers hope of settling their running back carousel by running hard against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC divisional round. He only amassed 53 yards rushing in the game, but that was on a mere 11 carries. He also had a rushing touchdown.

His impressive running style, comprised of vision and toughness, will likely lead to him being the running back on early downs. Mike McCarthy said earlier this offseason that Harris hasn't had issues picking up the blocking scheme, which is very important (via Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel). 

It is important is because it allows him to think less while running, thus relying on his natural instincts. It also allows the team to be less predictable on early downs. If Harris is in on first down and isn't a quality pass protector, the offense is more predictable and more susceptible to blitzes.


John Kuhn

If Harris is the early-down runner, fullback John Kuhn will be the third-down protector.

This is a job that Kuhn's had for a few seasons now and one that he's been pretty good at. The Packers have typically lined up in the shotgun set with Kuhn as a lone back offset in the backfield.

It's not an ideal scenario for the offense, as there are better athletes on the market than Kuhn, but he does a good job of protecting the passer, which is the most important job in the offense according to wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett (via Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).

Protection comes first in Green Bay. You've got to protect your franchise quarterbacks. These guys are the best in the business, and if you give them time you put our team in position to win games. And that's always been the mind-set, here.

Kuhn is also a reliable outlet receiver for Aaron Rodgers when the quarterback can't find his receivers downfield. Although catching passes in the flats may seem like an easy task, that's not always the case.

He usually has to perform a "check-release" responsibility, which means he reads the defense and identifies any additional rushers. Once he's checked for rushers, he then turns his focus to the flat, where he has a certain depth or landmark he has to run his route at. At that point, the quarterback can check the ball down to Kuhn.


The Others

If Harris and Kuhn are McCarthy's one-two punch, what does it mean for the rest of the players, such as Alex Green?

Green could still have a role with the team because he offers potential as a pass-blocker. He's been somewhat of a disappointment as a runner, partly because of injuries, and will have to become a better player overall.

Nonetheless, he has to find a way back into the rotation. Another option for the team, if he's re-signed, is Cedric Benson.

Benson had a short stay in Green Bay after suffering an injury only five weeks into the season. But if he comes back to the team, he could potentially be a candidate for the bulk of the carries because of his rugged running style.

Mike McCarthy has said in the past that he is willing to run with one ball-carrier if he can handle the workload and/or if he has the hot hand (via If Benson comes back or Green stays healthy and shows either, they could be factors.

Otherwise, the job is split between Harris and Kuhn, who appear to be fit for their jobs.